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Status Quo - Chapter 25

Written by: Paullell

 Lana listens to the exchange quietly, the conversation giving her valuable insight into the way Daray’s mind works.  When Daray makes the comment about transferring funds to Vash’s establishment she impulsively leans forward and kisses Daray’s cheek. “That’s perfect.  Thank you!”

 

When she comments about wanting fries with that she can’t resist piping up.  “And an apple pie for me please.”

 

Her jaw drops when April starts going into the details of how many records have been modified.  She gives Daray’s shoulder a squeeze, letting her know she appreciates the support and then asks the only question she can think to ask.  “Ummm.  How long ago was my birth certificate altered?  And what records of my mother’s were changed other than her hospital report?” With just a few more movements she has the braid completed and tied off.  With a grin she adds.  “And… the braid is done.

 

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Daray smiles at the kiss. “It’s the least I can do. She’s been very kind to us, and is taking quite the chance to boot.”

 

She grins at the apple pie request, but her stomach growls in response to the mere thought of food. She casts her eyes down at the offending organ crossly.

 

-I am sorry to report Lana, that your birth certificate, along with any other hospital records pertaining to your birth, and well-child check-ups have all been altered, most of them within plus or minus five days of the government action against Mistress Seara’s establishment on Venus Station. Your mother’s records have been altered almost across the board. Yesterday there was information about her having stayed at the hospital, but any cause, diagnosis, or treatment was unavailable, today there is no record of her ever having been there. I can no longer locate any employment records for her either. Whomever is behind this action, they are still hard at work, and covering their tracks quite well.-

 

“So our only lead is still this hacker at the cafe on Mars?” Daray asks as she stands up and rolls her head around a couple times, testing the feel and sway of the heavy rope of hair on the back of her head.

 

-That is correct. I am hoping that once we discover the identity of that individual, we can use that information to track down the one responsible for their hire. However, we need to make haste, as the systematic erasure of Lana’s past is continuing even as we speak. If we are going to solve this riddle before she is completely erased, we can not hesitate any longer. I calculate that if Captain Torres is able to help you, then his ship, at maximum velocity, can have us on Mars within 46 hours, then another two hours to get to the cafe from the space port. In that time, if the current rate of redaction continues, there will be nothing left of Lana’s records except her own name on her birth certificate, and her mother’s life will have been erased completely.-

 

Daray casts a concerned eye to Lana, then snatches her baston from the couch with one hand, and Lana’s arm with the other, and heads for the door without a word.

 

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Lana’s look is one of stunned horror when April reveals that her life is being systematically erased.  She is galvanized by Daray’s grip on her arm as they move out of the hidden room that had allowed them to heal when they most needed it.  She follows along behind Daray, almost as shaky as a newborn kit.  “Who would want to erase a person?  Why me?  What could I have possibly have done?”  She whispers under her breath; not to anyone in particular, but trying to verbalize her distress, hoping that would give it some level of comprehension and allow her to understand the puzzle that her life had turned into.  She barely notices anyone they might pass, giving them stunned nods and waves goodbye.

 

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“I don’t know, but we’re sure as hell going to make every effort to find out.” Daray states matter-of-factly. Their exit from the brothel is quick, but they are sure not to be rude to anyone. Daray even takes a moment to inform Lady Vash that she has had the money transfered to her account as a client payment so that she knows it is there, and where it came from.

 

She doesn’t move faster than Lana is capable of, but keeps her moving at her maximum pace as they make their way to the nearest transit station, and within minutes they are across Neo-Tokyo and waiting for the express to På-rymi.

 

As they await the arrival of the express, Daray says, “APRIL can you connect me to Vincent please? And make sure Lana is patched in as well?”

 

-Of course Daray.- There is a brief pause before she adds, -He is coming on now.-

 

A moment later the sound of a melodic, tenor, male voice can be heard through the earpiece. “Hello?”

 

“Hello, Vincent?” Daray is pacing up and down the platform as she waits, and even as she begins speaking to the man.

 

“Yes, who is this?” His tone was a little suspicious. 

 

“It’s Daray. We met almost two years ago on the Tyconderoga…”

 

There was a brief pause, then a woman’s voice could be heard faintly from the other line. It was a sing-song sort of soprano, with a hard edge to it that would encourage people not to trifle with her despite her sounding fairly friendly. “Who is it Vin? Why are you suddenly rubbing your jaw like that?”

 

“It’s Daray…” He whispers back, then replies over the comm directly. “Of course, Daray. What’s up?” Daray opens her mouth to speak, but is cut off by the other voice.

 

The other woman’s voice can be heard getting a little more excited then, “Oh wow! I haven’t heard from Dare in over a year! How’s she doing?”

 

“Riana, I’ll tell you in a minute, if you’ll just let me talk to her OK? Calm down, you crazy elf!”

 

“Ahem. Sorry about that Daray, what can I do for you?”

 

“Look, I know it’s been a while, and you don’t really owe me anything, but I was hoping you could do me a huge favor. I mean really huge.” Daray speaks so quickly that her words nearly run together into one unintelligible blob.

 

“I’ll do whatever I can Daray. You may not think I owe you anything, but I did have to put you on a boat with Tor back in The Dregs. I’m not sure if that is the sort of debt that ever gets paid off.”

 

“You put her  on that greasy pervert’s boat?!” Riana’s voice shouts over the comm.

 

“I had to Riana, she was under the gun to get to Tranquility and The Dregs were under assault.”

 

“That is no excuse Vin! And she hadn’t even been a woman for more than a couple months before you turned that animal loose on her! Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

 

“Because of how you’re reacting now Ree. Please calm down. She handled Tor quite admirably. I’m sorry Daray, as you no doubt have heard, Riana is her with me. We’re having lunch. So what’s this favor you need?”

 

Daray stops pacing and locks eyes with Lana as she speaks, “I have a friend. A uh… really close, personal friend. She needs to be on Mars, soon. The sooner the better. Someone’s messing with her life, and the trail is going cold. If we aren’t in Hector in the next 48 hours, we may not be able to find the bastards that are messing up her life. I’d charter a boat, but technically we’re both either dead, or under arrest, so I can’t exactly get on a registered transport.”

 

“No problem.” Was Vincent’s calm reply.

 

“What does she need?” Riana asks.

 

“A ride to Mars. I’ve got to go Ree. They need to go now.”

 

“Now? But I just got here! I’ve got a seven day furlough! And we just ordered! Have her com eat with us.”

 

Daray’s stomach growled at the mere mention of food as Vincent answered. “Daray, meet me at docking bay 94, west of På-rymi. I’ll be there in twenty and ready to fly in another twenty after that. How many am I expecting?”

 

“Thanks Vincent, I really appreciate this. More than I’ll ever be able to say. There’s just Myself, My friend Lana, and APRIL. We’re getting on the express from Neo-Tokyo now, so we should be there in just under two hours.”

 

“OK, we’ll be there.”

 

“We?” Riana’s voice  parroted.

 

“Yes Ree, we. As in you and I. You want to talk to her, you’re on vacation, You don’t have to come if you don’t want to…”

 

“You’d better believe I’m coming!”

 

It sounded as if the conversation was going to continue in that vein for a while, so Daray just said, “Thank you Vincent,” again, and cut off the line. She gave Lana a sympathetic look just as the express monorail came to a silent stop at the platform and its doors wooshed open to allow passengers on and off.

 

“We’re going to find them Lana. I promise.”

 

She then snatched Lana’s arm again and pulled her into the monorail. Within moments the transport was heading toward På-rymi at  several times the speed of sound.

 

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Lana is coming out of her daze by the time they are waiting for the express.  The longer she listens to the conversation the more she grins.  Once they disconnect she turns to Daray, her eyes sparkling.  “Oh, Daray.  They sound like wonderful people.  I can't wait to meet your friends.”  Lana looks around, not exactly certain how she missed so much travel time.  “I'm so sorry that I zoned out there Daray.  It’s just too much to take in.”

 

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Daray smiles back at Lana. “It’s OK. I’m actually good at this sort of thing. It’s all that, being a person stuff that I’m terrible at…”

 

She takes a moment to consider Lana’s assertion that they are good people. “Well, Vincent gave me my first kiss as a woman. In a ballroom full of people, in the middle of the dance floor… And you caught the bit about him putting me on Tor’s ship right? And then Riana flipped out when I kissed her later, you know, in a sort of ill-timed hormone imbalance moment. She proceeded to squash me flat for several minutes, then storm off. Although, interestingly enough, she actually kissed me later that same evening. Said something about being confused about her desires. A feeling I can certainly relate to.”

 

She thinks for another moment then grins. “Of course, they all helped me rescue APRIL from Aegis Online later, so I guess I can’t really hold all that against them now, can I? Anyway, it’s alright, you just found out that someone is erasing you from existence. I think your entitled to be a little spaced out.”

 

She leans into lana, wrapping her arm around her shoulder and squeezing her tightly against her own body in a sort of sideways hug, then adds, “which means I just need to hold on to you a little tighter, so you don’t go disappearing on me. I honestly don’t think my heart could take it.”

 

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Lana’s eyes open in disbelief.  “I’ve seen you fight now.  You must not have been trying to win.  And I thought April was in your head, why would they have needed to help you rescue her?”  She leans into Daray’s hug and warps her own arm around Daray’s waist.  She watches out the windows for a while, the world a blur around them.  “I appreciate that Daray I guess you’ll just have to be my anchor until this all gets sorted out.  You’re stuck with me, no changing your mind now.”  She shivers again but doesn’t retreat into herself, instead she clings to Daray for support.

 

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Daray grins as she explains, comfortable to be back in a situation that is more her element. Somewhere she has some modicum of control. “Riana is a class 2, borderline class 1 hand-to-hand combatant. I haven’t been checked out in a while, but before I left the Tyconderoga a couple years ago, I was listed as a class 3, borderline class 2. To put that into a little better perspective for you, most of your military special forces people, people who train half their lives, and workout every single day, are at about my level.”

 

“Riana studies under Master Jonin, onboard the Tyconderoga, Solidarity Online’s private facility. He is one of only about half a dozen registered class 1 hand-to-hand practitioners in the solar system. She is something else. She takes to everything she does like it was the easiest thing in the world. In a way, I’m kind of glad I was able to jar her like that. It makes me feel better about being so uncomfortable in my own skin, to know that someone who is so freaking perfect, has similar issues.”

 

She squeezes Lana a little bit, enjoying the warmth of their bodies pressed together in the seat. “As for APRIL needing rescuing… That’s a long story… It was my first assignment after my reconstruction. AO had a deadly computer virus they were planning to dump into the Kalijor servers. It could have killed billions of people. I discovered it by accident, while on another job, then SO offered to rebuild me, as a sort of witness protection program, if I agreed to help them get the source code for the virus. While we were jacked in to their central server looking for the code, I was forced to unplug unexpectedly, and APRIL’s program was stranded on their computer system. I had to run for it, because some crazy bitch who was more on Riana’s level than my own in a fight, wanted to tussle.”

 

“I thought I’d lost her for good. At first I was kind of relieved to have my head back to single-occupancy, especially since she was never really part of the bargain I made with SO. But after a couple hours, I really started to miss her, then I broke down completely. Riana and her sister, and Vincent, all came together to help me find her, and break into a secure SO facility to get her back. It was a tough battle, and they all put themselves on the line for APRIL and I.”

 

“I owe them one.”

 

-We both do.- APRIL added. -You can not fathom how terrible it was to be operating on such an archaic computer system.-

 

Daray chuckles at APRIL’s comment. “I’m so sorry you had to suffer through that APRIL. I would never want you to have to slow down!” She grins. “Anyway, They are great. They’ll get us where we need to be, so we can catch whoever is responsible for this. And we won’t stop until we get to the bottom of things Lana. I promise.”

 

It takes a couple of hours for the monorail to make its trip a quarter of the way around the planet, but eventually the pair disembark, then get back on another, much slower, monorail that takes them back into the ring they had just come through. This train, instead of moving non-stop from city to city, made frequent stops to pick up and drop off passengers within the ring. 

 

Another twenty minutes and they disembarked into a scene very much like the one that had greeted Lana a couple of days previously, when she’d been taken from the Methuselah by Sergeant Killgore. People of every description were going about their lives all around them. Buying selling, chatting, loading and unloading. It was like a scene from an ancient movie about any port city in the world.

 

Once off the monorail, Daray gives Lana another platinum bar and pulls her into a clothing store that is set up beneath the elevated track and smiles. “I need to step into the back here and see a guy about some more hard currency for the trip. It should just take a minute or two. I know you didn’t bring anything, so look around and get whatever you need. We’ll be back on the road in five or ten minutes. Vincent’s ship is another ten minutes from here, so we’re nearly there.”

 

She smiles and gives Lana a quick kiss on the lips. “If you need anything, just tell APRIL.”

 

She then weaves her way through the racks of every kind of clothing imaginable, and disappears through a partially-hidden door in the back, after being frisked by a tall, skinny man with metal arms and one cybernetic eye.

 

The store itself, is not huge, but it is packed so tightly with racks and shelves that it makes one feel they are in a store half the size, with ten times the product in it. There is a true cornucopia of clothing and accessories available, in any style and price range imaginable. Along one wall is a tidal wave of shoes and other foot wear, and along the other, a similar situation exists with bags, packs, and purses. The young woman behind the counter watches the exchange with idle curiosity, then sticks her nose back into the holographic display of whatever periodical she is engrossed in. The girl looks at least ten years too young to be working at all, let alone in a store who’s front door is not more than ten feet from the busiest port in the solar system, but the cyborg in the back of the shop also seems to tell a tale of his own, one that suggests this is not the sort of establishment that people try to do bad things in.

 

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Lana looks around in delight.  She begins to weave her way through the clothing, stopping and touching all of the beautiful and glittering items that catch her eyes.  She picks up one yellow dress that has a formfitting stretch top like a sundress and its skirts are made up of silky scarves. She looks at the price tag and practically drops it.  Much of her clothing previously had been supplied by the brothel and she had never needed to worry about money until she had to live on her own.  A budget became a very important concept for her. Eventually she begins to feel guilty.  “April, what should I get?  I don’t want to waste money frivolously.  What items or clothing will help me blend into Daray’s world?”

 

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APRIL’s voice comes back almost immediately, -Daray, Lana wants to know what she should purchase to better acclimate herself to present events.-

 

A brief pause is followed by, -She says, “Whatever you like.” Although, if I might suggest something that is comfortable, and does not restrict your ability to move quickly. Of course Daray, I am transferring the funds now. You are welcome. Captain Torres has filed a flight plan for Hector. The current exchange rate is twice that Daray. I realize we are in a hurry, but that is no excuse for letting the man fleece you. No, I will not shut up. The effective range of the T-01 is only eighteen meters, she would do better to have the extra range for the T-01a, even with the decrease in stopping power. I do not think that makes any difference Daray. Very well, I will ask her. Lana, Daray wishes to know your favorite color.-

 

The one-sided conversation comes in fits and starts, making it difficult to know who is being spoken to, but it seems as if APRIL is making an effort to address Lana by name whenever she is speaking directly to her.

 

As she browses through the slightly claustrophobic store, it takes Lana a moment to realize that she has been joined there by a large, familiar-looking man. Sergeant Killgore is wearing civilian clothing, looking much like a leather-clad gang-banger, with dark glasses concealing his hateful eyes. He seems to be largely ignoring Lana as he picks through stacks of folded garments, but at one point he catchers her eye and points at her, his index finger extended straight, and his thumb cocked back like the hammer of a gun, making a clicking sound with his tongue.

 

The cyborg at the back of the store seems to see what is going on, and shifts his weight into a ready stance, arms folded across his chest in a manner that seems to dare the situation to go badly. The Sergeant sees this and goes back about his browsing, careful to stay on the other side of the store from Lana, but making not move to exit the store.

 

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Lana grins at the chatter and picks out two different outfits that fit April’s recommended criteria.  She also grabs a nightgown that she can’t resist and a few unmentionables that have been sadly lacking since being on the run.  “My favorite color is green actually.  I don’t wear it ever, obviously. But it is my favorite color.”  She is absolutely baffled as to why it might be important but she answers honestly.

 

Her eyes skim the store looking for anything else she might have forgotten to grab when her eyes fall on the man who captured her.  Her heart rate accelerates to dangerous levels as fear and adrenaline pump though her body.  “Oh god.  April, he’s here… and he has most definitely seen me.”  Lana quickly begins to weave her way towards the cyborg that Daray passed and the door that she disappeared through.  She tries not to look in his direction as she moves because every time she does she stumbles with fear.


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